‘The World Before Your Feet’ Review: Walk a Mile — or 8,000 — in Another Man’s Shoes
Posted November 20, 2018 3:58 p.m. EST
By the end of the documentary “The World Before Your Feet,” the film’s subject, Matt Green, has not yet completed his goal of walking every block in New York City, along with many bridges, beaches, parks and cemeteries. But he’s in no hurry. As of Sunday, his blog marked the 2,515th day of the project, meaning that he’s been at it for nearly seven years.
The walk — which Green began having already completed a foot trek from Rockaway Beach, Queens, to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, in 2010 — has no ultimate financial motive, he insists. He simply loves living for the moment and discovering aspects of the city he might not otherwise see.
He sustains himself as an urban Thoreauvian by not keeping an apartment; he crashes with friends and generous strangers. He has a side racket in cat-sitting. His itinerant status, which effectively passes his costs on to others, also makes it possible for him to claim, in the film, that he’s subsisting on around $15 a day, for food and transit. The director, Jeremy Workman, never answers some obvious questions. Who’s paying Green’s cellphone bill? How are his clothes so neat? Does this guy even sweat?
Green also appears to have the ability to disarm anyone he meets. (There’s no icebreaker like having a camera following you.) He says he’s never been mugged or beaten up. Garnette Cadogan, a walker on a similar project who compares notes with Green, points out that Green, who is white, doesn’t have to worry about the same things he does. (When exploring, Cadogan, who is black, makes sure to dress in a certain way and avoid sudden movements.)
But “The World Before Your Feet” makes clear that Green’s mission, whatever its origins, has become more than a selfish, privileged stunt. His travels have turned him into an extraordinary micro-historian of the city, with expertise that spans architecture, horticulture and urban planning. He is a connoisseur of “churchagogues” (synagogues that became churches), of barbershops that use the letter “z” in their signs (as in “cutz” or “kutz”) and of informal Sept. 11 murals.
He can locate the unmarked building in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States; and expound on a deadly gas tank explosion in Staten Island in 1973 while passing by the present-day site. Weather is no impediment. Trudging through a snowstorm during which all nonemergency vehicles have been ordered off the roads, he takes it in stride: “A little later in the day we’ll have the streets all to ourselves.”
Short of walking with Green, a film is an ideal way to share in his knowledge. And after watching “The World Before Your Feet,” it’s difficult to look at the city the same way.
“The World Before Your Feet” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.